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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Brexit legacy

One of the biggest impacts of us leaving the European Union is going to be on Higher Education. Universities and other institutoins have long taken advantage of the funding opportunities offered by the EU, both revenue and capital and now face the challenge of replacing that funding. Some, however say that there are inherent dangers in that process, especially in the way we fund research.

The Independent reports that scientists have raised concerns about the increasing privatisation of academic research once the UK leaves the European Union, after it emerged two multinational pesticide manufacturers have given millions of pounds to universities.

Referring to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace, they say that the firms, Bayer and Syngenta, which both sell neonicotinoid insecticides linked to harmful effects on bees, gave a combined total of £16.1m to 70 British universities to fund a range of research projects between 2011 and 2016. Roughly, £2.6m of this money was spent on plant sciences, including research into pesticides.

Leading bee scientists have said that such private funding could create a conflict of interest for academics and are warning that after Brexit a potential shortage of public money for science could force universities to seek more finance from the private sector:

Neonicotinoids were once thought to have little or no negative effects on the environment because they are used in low doses and as a seed coating, rather than being sprayed.

But evidence has been mounting that the chemicals do harm bees – important pollinators of food crops – with one recent study linking their use to “large-scale population extinctions”.

As a result, neonicotinoids have been banned by the EU although they can still be used under licence.

However both firms deny there is evidence to show the pesticides cause a significant problem for bees.

Greenpeace's concern is that if research is to command public confidence, then it needs to be independent and impartial. That is why they say that public funding is so crucial. They make the point that we would not want lung cancer studies to be heavily reliant on funds from tobacco firms anymore than we would want research on pesticides to be dependent on the companies making them.

It is crucial therefore that the Government ensures that scientists have access to the same level of funding after Brexit as before it.
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